Dermot Kennedy began his career busking on Grafton Street in central Dublin, with people walking by while they were shopping or stopping to drop money in his guitar case.
More than a decade later, the Rathcoole man returned to his beginnings, standing on the balcony of Bewley’s cafe on Tuesday night and playing for the large crowd that gathered on the street below him.
Despite headlining the main stage at Electric Picnic and many other high-profile venues internationally earlier this year, Kennedy says the performances “feel the same in a way” as the ones he did as a teenager.
“What has changed? I’m playing in front of a lot more people and they know the music now, but in my head it’s the same. I’ll just get the guitar and do what I would have done when I was 16,” he said.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his performance, Kennedy said that while he would never take career growth for granted, he always has that development in mind. He released his second album Sonder last week, opened a pop-up merchandise shop at Bewley’s Café on Tuesday and held a book signing at the nearby Golden Discs store.
“I think sometimes there are certain shows where people are like, ‘Can you believe you’re doing this?’ Well, I can because I’ve seen every step for the past 15 years and 10 years that no one has paid attention to,” he added.
That’s the most important thing other young buskers should know, he said.
“If you’re not doing what you want to do, it’s not because you’re not good, it’s because the world doesn’t know you yet. It’s all about being stubborn.”
Artists often talk about the pressure of releasing a second album, especially after a successful debut. For Kennedy he found the opposite to be true. “I was less sure of who I am. In certain studios, they can be intimidating scenarios. Well, now I kind of know what I’m doing. I know my ideas are good.”
However, there was still jitters surrounding the music’s release, particularly after it was delayed on several occasions, he said.
“I can’t speak for other artists, but I think sometimes people think we’re that confident. I’m confident, but you’re definitely nervous about releasing it. I think it’s more reassuring than people know when the feedback is good.”
Kennedy has become a household name, with his songs doing well on the charts and receiving significant radio play. While he has been described by some as meteoric, Kennedy said his success didn’t come overnight.
“I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s really impossible to outline what is needed [to make it],” he said. “But what also gets me in my place is that it’s the same job as anyone’s job. There are a lot of things that are difficult or overcome that people don’t learn about.”
Sonder is different from his first album Without Fear. It features a mix of pop music with smoother, almost ballad-like songs, a change Kennedy said was intended.
“It’s just a natural progression. Some people say to me, ‘Oh, that sounds very different,’ but we’re in a different place,” he said.
“There are songs on it that would fit in that space and there are songs on it that would fit in stadiums. I try to be almost two artists at the same time. You try to be ambitious and attract more people while trying to stay loyal to the people who have been with you from the start. You cannot limit yourself in any direction.”
The 30-year-old keeps a low profile about his private life. His lyrics, on the other hand, are vulnerable, open and raw. It’s easy to keep the balance between the two, he added.
“It’s all in there [the music]. I feel pretty free as a person because I can go to therapy all the time. I don’t know who I would be without that outlet,” he said. “If all these feelings were just pent up inside me and I didn’t write them down and I didn’t sing them, I don’t know how I would feel.”
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